Nowadays, people regularly go to the movies and see a very landscape-oriented picture, films are regularly presented with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 or even 2.35:1 (heck, people even have "widescreen" televisions in their living room). This wasn't always the case. In fact, for a goodly long time, the aspect ratio of a film in the theater was about the same as an old-school television. With the advent of television though, the film industry tried to do different things, from 3D stuff to multiple projectors to widening the screen, in order to get people back into seats. For its part, FOX went with a process known as Cinemascope (a name we all know and are very familiar with), and started to shoot movies in a truly widescreen aspect ratio, 2.55:1.
The first movie FOX filmed this way, The Robe, has just been released to Blu-ray in fantastic fashion. It is well worth taking a look at not only for its historical significance in terms of the motion picture industry, but because it is still a great movie.
One in an incredibly long line of Hollywood movies that deal with biblical times, the films stars Richard Burton as Marcellus Gallio, a Roman centurion and son of an important senator and Jean Simmons as Gallio's love interest, Diana. Gallio makes the foolish mistake of upsetting Caligula (Jay Robinson) and is banished to Palestine. Among other duties, Gallio finds himself on the squad sent to crucify Jesus. As the soldiers wait for Jesus to perish, Gallio wins Jesus' robe in a game of chance, and, after wearing it, is driven mad.
The rest of the film finds Gallio struggling to regain his sanity and eventually learning the ways of Christianity from his one-time slave and current holder of the robe, Demetrius (Victor Mature). While Gallio may find himself on the wrong side of the law with his newfound religion, he is fervent in his belief that he is on the right side of the Lord and becomes as strong an advocate for Christianity as Demetrius.
Yes, the film may be a little heavy handed with its own proselytizing and somewhat melodramatic compared to what we are used to seeing on the screen today, but the story still manages to be incredibly engrossing and Burton and Mature's performances are fantastic. Burton was in fact nominated for an Academy Award for his role, losing out to William Holden for his role in Stalag 17.